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Study: Strengthening State Laws Would Reduce Teen Accident Deaths

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Another teen driver!A new study shows that more than 500 lives could be saved and more than 9,500 collisions prevented each year if every state adopted all five components of the toughest young-driver laws in the U.S. The study, conducted by Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and Highway Loss Data Institute, aims to encourage states to improve graduated driver laws (GDL).

Some states could reduce their rate of fatal accidents among 15- to 17-year-olds by half or even more than half if they adopted the strongest GDL provisions, an IIHS press release says. The five main components of the most beneficial GDL provisions in effect today in some states are: the minimum age teens must be to get driving permits, requirements regarding practice hours, the age teens must be in order to get a driver’s license, plus restrictions on night driving and teen passengers.

As Jonathan Welsh writes on The Wall Street Journal blog Driver’s Seat:

Graduated licensing enables new teen drivers to gradually build driving experience and develop skills on the road. The graduated system has three stages: a supervised learner’s period, an intermediate license that limits driving in high-risk situations except under supervision, and a license with full privileges.

States began adopting elements of graduated licensing in the mid-1990s, and all but nine states had GDL laws by December 2000. But since there is no nationwide GDL system, the laws vary.

IIHS says the best practices currently are a minimum intermediate license age of 17 (New Jersey), a minimum permit age of 16 (in Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island), at least 65 supervised practice hours (Pennsylvania), a night driving restriction during the intermediate state starting at 8 PM (Idaho and in South Carolina during daylight savings time), and a ban on all teen passengers (15 states — including Colorado — plus D.C.)

Colorado is among those states that allows 15-year-olds to get driver’s permits in certain cases, according to IIHS :

In Colorado, the minimum permit age varies. Fifteen year-olds who are enrolled in driver education may apply for an instruction permit. Their supervising driver must be a parent, stepparent, grandparent, guardian, or driving instructor. A person age 15, 6 months may apply for an instruction permit which allows driving while supervised by a parent, stepparent, grandparent, or guardian. Although driver education is not required at this age, applicants for this permit must have completed a 4-hour driver awareness program. At 16, young drivers may apply for a permit that allows driving while supervised by a licensed driver age 21 or older.

As IIHS explains, it began rating state GDL laws from “good” to “poor” in 2000. Its ratings encouraged state to adopt three-phase GDL systems. But those ratings did not show legislators how any state could boost the benefits of the GDL laws by improving specific components.

Based on more than a decade of data, researchers are now able to estimate the effects of changing individual provisions of GDL. Therefore, IIHS has switched from a grading system to a calculator system designed to show each state how it could reduce collisions and fatal crashes by changing specific laws.

“Even the best states can do better,” says Anne McCartt, Institute senior vice president for research. “There’s room for improvement across the board, and states could see immediate reductions in fatal crashes and collision claims as soon as the beefed-up provisions are in force.”

Here is IIHS’s calculator page that estimates the effects of teen drivers licensing changes in Colorado.

Image by djuggler (Doug McCaughan), used under its Creative Commons license.

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